$10K Drag Shootout 3: Episode 1: “10K Or Nothin'”

If the drama that led into this year’s No-Prep Edition of the Horsepower Wars $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil is any indicator of what’s to come, then we’re in store for quite a ride!

Team Enemies Everywhere, the reigning champions of the $10K Drag Shootout, were all set to return to the states from their home in Australia to defend their title…that was, until the Coronavirus quite literally changed the world. Months went by and they remained hopeful they would still be permitted to travel overseas to compete, but the Jamie Farmer-led squad was ultimately forced to step down just weeks before building was set to commence.

$10,000, 10 days, one winner: this is the $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil.

In Enemies’ absence, the popular vote runner-up, no-time racer Marcus Thompson’s Philadelphia-area Team Out In Front happily obliged to join the starting lineup for the build. But Thompson’s team faced considerable uncertainty of its own after accepting the position, as Tropical Storm Isaias dumped torrential rains in the Northeast, flooding the tools and parts the group had staged up for the build and putting their participation in peril, as well.

Then, with the build merely days away, Idaho native Ryan Saiki and his Team Freeform bowed out due to unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, leaving the race ladder one team short, yet again, at the eleventh hour. But a familiar face to Horsepower Wars fans — former Dream Team member Jorge “Geo” Ramos — threw his Texas cowboy hat in the ring at the final minute, assembling a team of builders and racers from around the country to comprise the fourth and final team in this year’s race: the Villain Squad. 

It certainly didn’t come easy, but four highly talented and hungry teams arrived at the new Horsepower Wars build center ready to take on one of drag racing’s fiercest tests.

The Teams Of The $10K Drag Shootout 3

Team Homegrown

A bail bondsman by trade with some wild stories to tell, Jim Howe, Jr. is a veteran drag racer, engine builder, and track operator, who knows his way around the no-prep and street racing scenes. He also knows a thing or two about drag radial racing, having won — in dominating fashion, we should add — the 2019 Limited Drag Radial national championship in his supercharged first-gen Camaro. 

Howe has assembled quite the cast, which includes his wife, Amanda, who will drive, along with renowned chassis builder David Reese, the owner and driver of the quickest small-block-powered car in the world, and crewmember Bret Moore. Howe has also brought along his father, Jim, Sr., making this a family affair. Homegrown will operate at a bit of a disadvantage, with just five team members, one fewer than its competitors.

The Villain Squad

Last season, Ramos, who owns and operates a tuning and performance shop in Texas and has a bevy of driving experience to his credit, displayed enviable drive and hunger to prove his abilities. After serving as a key member of the Dream Team, Ramos was ready to assume a leadership and driving role on a team of his own. 

Ramos’ squad, a last-minute addition, was not afforded the luxury of preparation — namely in acquiring an engine and drivetrain, as the other teams have — and so they come in behind the eight-ball, if you will, ready to hit the ground running and make up for lost time.

Villain Squad, in addition to Ramos, includes Ben Freeman, Russ Barber, Justin Carpenter, Kelvy Limoncellos, and Nathan Egli.

Team Mid America Kustomz

Team leader Adam Hodson and driver Nick Taylor, business partners at their Northern Indiana fabrication and tuning shop, are among the Midwest’s most formidable no-prep and street racing duos. So entrenched are they in no-prep racing that they promote an 1/8-mile, unprepared racing series in and around their home state. Among their vaunted squad are a number of close friends and fellow racers and builders who all know the no-prep and street racing game inside and out.

Hodson and Taylor are joined by friends Matt Donavan, Nick Bodigan, Tod Gunder, and Wesley Butler.

Team Out In Front

Philly-native Marcus Thompson and company may be a lesser known quantity in the competition, but it certainly makes up for it in talent, and rest assured the world will know who they are when it’s all said and done. This group from Out In Front Performance features members with experience in everything from X275 radial-tire racing to big-tire shootouts, high-dollar grudge matches, and street races.

Noted Thompson in his application: “Our team is not a pieced-together group — we have worked and raced together for a while now and all have a critical role on the team.”

Out In Front’s team includes Brandon Paone, Donald Robinson, Joseph Zamulinsky, and Bobby Stephenson.

The $10K Drag Shootout Competition Explained

The $10K Drag Shootout, as the name implies, is an intense 10-day build-off, where teams pit their welding, fabrication, engine building, and other skills against one another using just $10,000. It’s a mechanical torture test that, as previous seasons prove, quickly becomes emotional and physical, as well.

The allotted budget for the build consists of $7,000 in gift cards from Summit Racing Equipment and $3,000 in cash, which includes the purchase cost of the vehicle. Teams may use their money as they see fit, but each and every item acquired is checked-in and inspected by Horsepower Wars officials to ensure teams are acquiring them at fair-market value and remaining within the spirit of the competition. Of course, that’s never stopped teams from pushing boundaries to sneak cheated-up parts in the door, and this season was no exception.

Once the teams have completed their vehicles, they will have access to a chassis dynamometer to dial-in and tune to prepare for the track. They will then descend upon Southern California’s Barona Dragstrip, where they will compete on an unprepared 1/8-mile, and with the late-summer, desert heat warming the track upwards of 150-degrees, it could be extra dicey. Teams will receive five qualifying/tune-up runs, and will be paired up on a pro-ladder (1 versus 4, 2 versus 3) and race until only one remains, to be crowned $10K Drag Shootout presented by Lucas Oil champion.

Car Selection Competition: Engine Buildoff With The Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow

Already weary as they sauntered in, ten days of intense building lie ahead of this talented group of fabricators, engine builders, tuners, and drivers — and at the end, they will lay it all on the line in a winner-take-all no-prep drag race, with one team and one team only earning $10,000 and the title to the racecar they will undoubtedly pour blood, sweat, and tears into.

But first came the task of marrying four teams with four distinctly different cars. For that, five members of each team faced off in an exciting engine teardown and rebuild against the clock and one another, hosted by the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow. The Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, for those unfamiliar with the program, is aimed at high school students seeking careers in the automotive and motorsports fields; teams from around the country compete in regional and national competitions, wherein they fully field-strip and reassemble a small-block Chevrolet engine. And let us tell you, these kids are talented. But so are the teams of the $10K Drag Shootout.

This year’s vehicle menu includes a truck, a classic Chevrolet car with a bed like a truck, and two bonafide late-model muscle cars to choose from. 

First up, returning from a season ago, is a 1984 Chevrolet S-10 shortbed — with the engine and trans already removed and it is arguably the lightest of the bunch. It’s expected to be taken quickly. While a big-block swap isn’t likely given space required and the timeframe, the leaf spring suspension should lend itself well to the tight budget.

The second vehicle is a 1996 SN95 Ford Mustang V6 — a car that’s easy to find parts for, nimble, and equipped with a four-link rear suspension and a solid axle from the factory. Swaps are simple, space up front is more than adequate…you can’t go wrong with a later-model Mustang.

A 1999 Pontiac Firebird V6 is also in the lineup, featuring the usual short/long-arm front suspension, and a torque arm rear setup. The torque arm setup can be costly, but Enemies Everywhere proved this platform was viable by sailing to the win with its Camaro last season, and that fact isn’t likely to be forgotten by this fresh crop of contenders.

And last but certainly not least, is an oh-so-sweet 1979 Chevrolet El Camino. A fifth-generation G-body, this Elco has an attractive (for no-prep) 117-inch wheelbase, factory four-link suspension, and a ton of room in the engine bay for engine swaps and power-adder activities. Best of all, like the S10, it can haul its own salvage yard parts in a pinch.

The teams weren’t given any practice, but were treated to a preview compliments of the students from the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, who completed the engine teardown and rebuild in an amazing 26 minutes. After 45 minutes of intense wrench-slinging, Indiana’s Team Mid America Kustomz, led by no-prep racer and promoter Adam Hodson, came out on top; they were followed by Team Out In Front, Villain Squad, and finally, no-prep and drag-radial racer Jim Howe, Jr.’s Team Homegrown. As expected, Team MAK snagged the S10, while Thompson’s group chose the Mustang, Villain Squad the Firebird, and Homegrown the El Camino.

Next week, the teams will get to work stripping their respective machines down to create a fresh palette to build upon. We’ll also see the teams making decisions on their engines, power adders, and suspension configurations as they make preparations for the work to come in the days ahead.

Horsepower Wars Season 3 is made possible by its title sponsor Lucas Oil as well as ARPBMR Suspension, Comp Cams, Dyna-Batt, E3 Spark Plugs, Holley, Kooks Header, Lucas Oil, MAHLE Motorsports, Moroso, Moser Engineering,  NOS, PROFORM PartsPRW IndustriesQA1Ron Francis, Summit Racing, SpicerTotal Seal, Victor Reinz, Tuff Stuff Performance, Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels, B&M, Impact Race Products, and Weld Racing.

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About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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